The Twelve Most Effective Ways to Contact Congress
There are many ways people contact Congress. Some are extremely effective at bringing about changes, and others a very ineffective. We looked at the 12 most common ways people contact their members of Congress and ranked them from least effective (#12) to the most effective (#1).
#12: Voting Websites and Apps
There are many websites and apps available where you can learn about issues before Congress and comment or vote on the policies on their platform. Some of these websites and apps take it a step further and let you send your opinion to your member of Congress and your Senators.
These online platforms are handy if you want to stay on top of the issues and hear other people's opinions, but they are not a good way to contact Congress.
Messages through these websites are impersonal and flood Congress with pre-written messages from people who can not be verified as constituents. Some folks on Capitol Hill have also informed us that staffers do not trust these sites because they might have an underlying partisan bias.
While tech entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley startups are creating innovative ways to make contacting your member of Congress easier, congressional offices are now flooded with impersonal messages from untrusted sources. This is counterproductive to their mission because all the noise makes it harder for an individual voice to break through.
#11: Online Petitions
Online petitions are nearly a dime a dozen these days. Still, when one pops up in your newsfeed, it is hard to resist the simple act of adding your name to the cause. At the end of the day, what is the harm?
The problem is, online petitions do not work at impacting legislation.
A study from Pew Research Center found that the petition site, “We The People,” which allowed Americans to sign petitions to the Obama Administration had "limited legislative impact.” The research only found “three instances where petitions led to concrete policy outcomes,” even though there were a total of 38.5 million signatures on more than 473,000 distinct issues.
Some fans of online petitions assert that they help build an audience that is engaged in an issue. This might be true if the petition is followed up by more impactful actions by an established organization, but the petition alone does very little to persuade elected officials.
It is, however, worth pointing out that starting a petition seems to be effective when they target large corporations that sell to consumers.
Petitioning a company to change its business practices usually gets the attention of the company because bad publicity can impact sales.
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#10: Form Emails
You might be surprised to learn how little influence form emails and prewritten messages have on members of Congress.
While they are commonly used by advocacy organizations and nonprofits, they are very impersonal and do not result in meaningful actions from your representatives.
Think about it: if you were a staffer and you receive the SAME message over and over and over again, wouldn't you just ignore the emails as they came through the computer?
The reason they are used is they are a good way to make you feel like you are making a difference and to get your email address.
Additionally, congressional staffers have stated they do not trust these types of messages because there is no way to verify that these messages come from an actual human being and not a computer. Unless you follow up with an authentic message, your form email will be dismissed and not considered.
Prewritten messages can also be easily ignored. Sometimes offices respond to them, but there is no harm if the office ignores these messages. If you write a personal letter to your member of Congress, however, you will almost always receive a response and your opinion will almost always be recorded and considered.
Sending any message that is prewritten is not an effective way for you to get your voice heard on Capitol Hill.
#9: YouTube Videos
There have been many attempts to create videos on YouTube about an issue or a policy in order to get the attention of elected officials in Congress.
Sometimes the video comes from an advocacy group that thinks if their video goes "viral" it will catapult their issue front and center and get the attention of lawmakers.
For example, the video to the right was done by the Service Year Alliance.
It featured their members dressed up in dinosaur costumes running around D.C. warning that their program might become extinct because of a low funding request by the Trump Administration.
While videos like this are fun, they do not do much to influence your member of Congress
Another advocacy group convinced a former senator to dance to “Gangnam Style” while a guy in a soda can costume made sure he did the moves right.
Both of these videos received a lot of media attention and were viewed over 500,000 times on YouTube. The dinosaur video was written up in USA Today and the Gangnam Style coke can was covered by Anderson Cooper.
Media attention might be good for fundraising efforts and supporter recruitment, but they rarely have any impact on actual legislation. Few people on Capitol Hill pay attention to these videos and they do little to move the needle.
#8: Social Media Advocacy
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are increasingly being used by members of Congress to gauge public opinion on issues and to communicate with their constituents.
Every member of Congress has at least one social media account and posts regularly online. Congressional offices are starting to recognize the importance of social media in discussing their policy positions and explaining their actions to their voters without having to go through the press.
However, there is a lot of noise out there, so it is hard for you to stand out from the crowd.
To put it into perspective, on Twitter there are around 6,000 tweets posted per second, which means 350,000 tweets per minute, 500 million tweets per day, and around 200 billion per year.
With all that racket, members of Congress are not expected to respond to every post, and your message can easily be overlooked or ignored without political repercussions.
#7: Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor
A good way to garner public support for an issue is to write an op-ed, a blog, or a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.
Anyone can write one, and they provide a great opportunity to tell a personal story that could resonate with a lot of people and potentially influence your elected official.
Op-eds and letters to the editor can be an effective tool to influence public perception on an issue, especially if it is a local issue.
Members of Congress care a lot about what their constituents think, and local papers are important tools for congressional staffers to get the pulse of their district.
An op-ed or a letter-to-the-editor in the local paper is usually read by people in the congressional district.
The downside to op-eds, blogs, and letters to the editor is that they can seem impersonal. Unless the article is followed up by an increase in phone calls or letters about the issue, it might not make it on the lawmaker’s radar.
While op-eds, blogs, and letters to the editor are a good way to share your personal story, if your member of Congress doesn’t hear your voice or meet you face-to-face, they might not have the same impact.
If you are able to get an op-ed, blog post, or letter to the editor published, make sure you follow up with your member of Congress. You can call or write the office and let them know why you are passionate about the issue.
You can also print it out and give it to a staffer at a town hall meeting
or reach out to try to schedule a one-on-one meeting as a result. Following up ensures that the office sees the piece and is able to put a human face to it.
The inauguration of Donald Trump was followed by the single largest political protest in American history.
The event was started by a couple of different women who created events on Facebook the day after the election because they wanted to organize a protest.
Within 12 hours, their Facebook notifications
wouldn’t stop, and they realized they had something big on their hands.
The women who created events agreed to merge their multiple events and the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. was born.
While protests and marches can be effective, their impact usually depends on how well organizers mobilize supporters after the event, rather than how many people show up on the day of the protest or march.
Unfortunately, the people organizing protests
or marches are usually great at spreading
the word, handling event logistics, and
dealing with the media, but not great at translating their support into policy change.
Without a smart and strategic approach,
the message usually falls flat on Capitol Hill.
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#5: Calling Congress
Yes, calling Congress is one of the easiest ways to reach out to your elected official. It takes a couple of minutes to complete, and if you call during business hours, you are almost certain to get an actual person to answer your call.
But just because phone calls are easy to make does not make them the most effective way to contact your member of Congress.
While you are able to speak directly to a person and make your case about your issue, the person on the other end is usually an intern or a junior-level staffer.
They typically have very little influence on policy decisions as they spend most of their time engaging with constituents and learning the ropes.
Another reason why phone calls do not rank higher is that Congress gets a lot of them and there is no record except what gets logged into an excel spreadsheet or tracking system.
If you have a really powerful personal story, there is no good way for the staffer to pass the story on to somebody else.
#4: Writing Congress
Even though Congress gets an avalanche of personal letters and emails every day, almost all of them are read, responded to, and filed accordingly.
Many members of Congress personally read their letters from constituents, and what constituents are writing to their elected officials is often considered when the office is making a decision.
There are many stories about a constituent writing a letter to Congress swaying an undecided member of Congress on certain issues.
Emails, letters, and faxes allow you to clearly and concisely present your position on the issue and your personal story.
You can spend time creating an effective argument by thoroughly planning what you are going to say and fine-tuning every last detail.
The fact that you have a hard copy allows your personal story to get distributed among staff if it is compelling, and it may even find its way to your member’s desk.
#3: Attend a local event or town hall meeting
Local events where your lawmaker will be present, like a town hall meeting, a fundraiser, or a local parade, are fantastic opportunities to meet your member of Congress and let him or her know how you and other constituents feel about an issue.
When lawmakers are not working in D.C., they are most likely back home with full schedules of town halls, parades, meetings, and fundraisers.
We ranked local events second because it is a good way to get your elected officials to see you as a person and not a statistic.
Also, a poignant question at a town hall can lead to a constructive—and public—dialogue about your particular issue with a representative. They normally allow attendees to show their approval or disapproval of the members’ positions.
Often, if the elected official is truly interested in your cause, a member of the representative’s staff will follow up with you after the town hall.
One-on-one meetings are the cornerstone of great advocacy!
A one-on-one meeting accomplishes two things: it gives you a chance to get 15 to 20 minutes of a staffer’s undivided attention and gives you an opportunity to "ask" for something.
Having the undivided attention of a staffer who can make policy recommendations and important changes, even if it is only for 10 minutes, is crucial. It gives them a chance to ask questions and hear your argument without any distractions.
With all the noise coming from social media, fake news, outrage on both sides, and a press that is constantly looking for the next big scandal, getting the undivided attention of a staffer is gold.
Another important aspect of the one-on-one meeting is to create a solid “ask.” Since members and their staff have so much on their plates, it is important to give them a clear task to complete on your behalf that will help advance your issue.
You can also ask your member of Congress to make a speech on the House floor, hold a hearing with policy experts, vote a certain way, or include an amendment in the markup process.
Finally, one-on-one meetings, especially with your member of Congress or Senator, is much more personal and humanizing than every other way to communicate with your lawmaker.
There is no better way to personalize your message than for the member of Congress or Senator to see the actual people the policy or law impacts.
#1: Hire a Lobbyist
There is no better way to influence Congress than to hire a professional to do it for you. They are experts at influencing Congress and know how to get your voice heard in government.
Corporations that hire lobbyists to lobby Congress on their behalf see a high return on their lobbying investments.
One study found that companies see anywhere from 5,000% to 76,000% return on their investment through subsidies, tax breaks, and favorable regulatory policies.
We want to give you the same ROI but on issues that benefit the people, not the 1%.
The only way we can level the playing field is to have lobbyists working for us too! Our crowdfunding platform helps everyday people to hire lobbyists to work on issues that benefit the people, not large corporations.
Take a minute to watch the above segment from VICE News and consider supporting one of our current lobbying campaigns started by everyday citizens and nonprofit organizations working to make the world a better place.
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